What is the point of Pride?

Pride expressed

Pride is one of those human conditions that we know when we see it in others and when we experience it ourselves. The picture to the right screams pride to me, yet others see other meaning in the facial expression. In my purely personal and unscientific experiment, responses to the question ‘Describe the feeling within this picture’ have included Pride; in fact it was the most popular response – around 40% of those replying. However, I also received replies such as smug, sanctimonious, disdainful, condescending, sneering, conquering and superior. Interestingly, although it was the strongest reply, less than half of those who answered me associated the image with pride. Perhaps it’s a particularly difficult thing to recognise, or I was dealing with people who had difficulty reading expressions, or it was a poor choice of photograph.


The same group had little difficulty in associating the second photograph with anger, rage or fury. In fact 24 out of 25 read the face in that way. So is there something special about pride?

In fact, the more I read and examined this area, the more doubt I uncovered. Some psychologists considered pride to be an emotion in its own right. Others argued it wasn’t an emotion at all, but was a considered response to other behaviours. In any event, pride is an area which has very little in the way of serious academic research and the value it brings to an individual or society seems unsettled.

Pride Model

Emotional Generation Model

Most of the serious models use a model similar to that shown here. It argues that there are complex (hybrid) emotions and more primal (true) emotions. When considering pride, it argues that this follows an appraisal of how a person has responded to a concern and/or stimulus. That stimulus could itself be one of the more basic primal emotions such as fear or rage.

This model could also explain why we find these less complex, more primal feelings more easy to identify in the facial expressions of others.

However, the question of what purpose pride has, what it contributes remains in debate. The usefulness of fear and anger can be easily seen as part of the self preservation instinct, necessary in evolutionary terms for life itself. However, pride seems an almost self-indulgent nive to have. The nearest I could find to any form of credible theory was that it was a pseudo reward mechanism which may have been an early trigger for self-reflection. It may not give anything in itself other than a warm glow, but could reinforce reflective practice and potentially some of the underlying positive behaviours. Hold that thought for a moment!

Of course, in recent years Pride has taken on an altogether different meaning, particularly for the younger, gay or festival generations. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s a series of event championing equal rights for what was then called the ‘queer’ or homosexual population (there was no community recognised at that point) started to appear in major cities of the UK, most notably, London and Manchester.

Stonewall March

Stonewall March

Initially, these were  organised by Stonewall and they amounted to little more than an organised march with people dressed much as they would be if they were going to the cinema or theatre but with the occasional stonewall banner.

The purpose of the marches at that time was clear, equality in terms of rights, acceptance and integration into the wider community. As the 1980’s matured, the scourge of AIDS rose bringing a double challenge to the emerging gay community. Firstly, the emerging community was decimated by the arrival of HIV. Secondly and more challengingly, the natural fear of such a threatening virus seen as being born of the gay community brought a sense of ‘blame’ to that community further marginalising it in some quarters.

Manchester Mardi Gras 1996

Manchester Mardi Gras 1996

The Stonewall marches adapted as the eighties matured, these became more defiant and in some cases defiance veered towards the confrontational. However, these settled into a more educational and celebratory phase with accompanying name changes in most of the major events.

Manchester re-branded it’s celebrations as Mardi Gras with an increasing number of events emerging across the remainder of the country. Again, during this period the events had a clear purpose based around the battle against HIV/AIDS, the removal of clause 28 (perceived as homophobic legislation) and the promotion of ‘safe sex’. This continued through most of the naughties.

At that point my problems with these type of events started to grow. Arguably, the introduction of combination therapies leading to the effective management of HIV, the growing acceptance of homosexuality as part of mainstream society and the repeal of legislation such as Section 28 has removed the natural causes traditionally supported by such events.

Perhaps sensing this, Mardi-Gras and similar events started to diverge either competing with the growing festival scenes or becoming more of a celebration of an increasingly accepted homosexual lifestyle.  Mardi-Gras (along with most others) followed London by rebranding itself to first ‘Gay Pride’ and the simply ‘Pride’.

However, that acceptance and increased integration into mainstream lifestyle has at least for me sounded the first ringing of the death knell of Pride in its current form. In simple terms, they have lost their purpose and relevance for me.

Increasingly, these events have become more about being seen in gear, walking on the march (for reasons that are unclear to me) and consuming copious amounts of alcohol. They have also moved from the largely free events of the 1970’s to events in their own right often charging between £15 and £30 to gain entry.

Whist I have nothing against walking in the street, wearing gear or copious amounts of alcohol, I can do that in many places and don’t need to pay for the privilege of so doing. If the money raised during these events went to counter some of the modern battles facing the gay community I would have less of an issue. However, typically the collection funds the running costs of the events with just 3-5% going to related charities and good causes.


The worst example I can think of would be Manchester Pride 2014 sad for a city that has contributed so much to equality. In that example, a large area of the city (the gay village) was blocked off with the right to enter, pass and re-pass without hindrance suspended – unless of course you purchased a wrist band grating you access. Residents were granted ‘permits’ to reach their own homes but everyone else was prevented from gaining access.

I would have no issue if this was a private place or related exclusively to venues taking part in the ‘event’. However this wasn’t the case and people were effectively being charged to access public roads as a pedestrian. The actions of the Council in 2014 in relation to the implementation of the road closure have since been found to have been unlawful by the local government ombudsman (details of the issue can be found here). By extension, the security contractors and Greater Manchester Police who enforced the orders found themselves in a difficult position one nobody wanted to repeat this year. How far from the original ambitions of those who first marched.

Loss of Direction?

Loss of Direction?

So, what’s my point? What have I got against Pride? To answer that we need to go back to the purpose of pride in psychological terms. Pride allows us to reflect on concerns and stimulus, assess and feel we have/are making improvements or contributing to their being improved.

Has Pride simply become just another reason to drink until you fall over and be seen in your best leather, rubber or just show off your perfect abs?

The historic educational component is largely gone, the supportive and community aspects have in my view started to go the same way. Are there no  longer any issues for the gay community to address and raise in the public consciousness? I haven’t seen anything, for example, to support those struggling with the emergence of ‘chem sex’ within the gay community. An increasing dependence on chrystal meth and similar chemicals can be life shattering for some and there is precious little support for anyone wanting to give up outside London. Similarly, there is barely any educational or community support visible at any modern pride.

Isis throw men from tall buildings for being gay

Isis throw men from tall buildings for being gay

So is it just the case that the political scene for LGBT communities is now so settled that there is nothing left to fix?

Whilst it may be the case that things have improved incredibly over the past couple of decades in the UK, that is far from true in the rest of the world.

In the most extreme examples, ISIS are executing men by throwing them off multi storey buildings just for being gay. So far in 2015 there have been over 200 documented cases.

In less extreme examples, there are still significant issues of equality to be tackled both within the UK and internationally. These include the failure to recognise same sex partners as next of kin in many jurisdictions, the inability to marry or enter into civil partnerships in countries including Australia and unfair dismissal due to sexual orientation.  These would seem to indicate that the battle isn’t quite yet won. Yet on these points, Pride is typically silent in favour of stalls selling often over-priced  tat.

If the human state of pride is a psychological mechanism allowing reflection and improvement then I hope organisers of the various Pride events might take a lead from that example. Surely we can do better than what has been described as ‘just another piss-up in the park’. For my money until the modern day Pride events offer more than just another booze-up then it’s legitimate to ask exactly what is the point of pride?

#community #reflection #gay #homosexuality #pride #acceptance


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